My aunt died today. She was not just my aunt, but also my namesake. For thirty-three years we shared the same name. For more than fifty years, we lived on opposite sides of the world, separated by oceans sometimes and by a continent or two at other times. Barcelona, Tokyo, Philadelphia—we couldn’t get much farther away. You might think I hardly knew her.
You would be wrong.
I know she left her mothers’ dreams of a doctor daughter to share her love of God. I know she left the possibility of marriage to give her heart to children and refugees and mountain folk. I know she left her work to care for aged parents, and then left her dreams again to care for an aged co-worker. I know that her life was always an embrace of death.
I sat in a meeting last week and heard the Treasurer say, “I’m here to give you the bad news.” And it was bad. Too many commitments. Too few resources. Companies go bankrupt with that scenario. Families visit food pantries. Countries default. The treasurer’s talk was sobering and indeed, we were sobered and perhaps a bit fearful. What shall we do? What cuts shall we make? Can we handle the changes? And now we had eighteen minutes for Q and A between leaders and the led.
Right then, a man about halfway back in the crowd spoke up. Rather than Q and A, he suggested, why don’t we list all the wonderful things we are doing, all the successes we have had this year, all the ways we are thankful.
We were pressed for time. We had problems to solve. Why use up precious moments in a sentimental exercise? No one said all that, of course, but clearly, we were practical Americans and needed to get on with it.
Which got me thinking, of all things, about gratitude. Say we’re all seated at the table of life about to be served dinner. Life brings you your plate, and it is piled high with tasty nuggets, healthy greens, and even some nourishing extras. Colorful, delicious, appealing to all your senses, you are full of excitement. “This is so great!”
My plate appears with only a lone burger. A black burger. Black bun, black cheese, black, black, black. Really? What, you ran out of parsley for a garnish?
“Try it,” Life says and smiles at me. “Look—protein, dairy, whole grains—what more could you want?”
Nine months ago, I posted my last blog. And then silence. For nine months. That is no way to gain readers, I know. And really, what happened to me? Lest you think I suddenly died, let me reassure you that I am very much alive. I still read. I still write (on occasion). But three days after I wrote the December 9, 2013 blog post, my normal life exploded and I, along with my family, was thrust into an adventure of a lifetime.
On December 12, we received a call from a foster care agency asking if we would take two boys, ages eight and ten. We had signed up for emergency foster care and had been told we would be given a baby. Eight and ten? With baggage? All right, we said, and then waited with trepidation for their arrival. They came that night. The next day was the most exhausting I had had in a very long time, for the boys stayed home from school. What did they do? They followed me wherever I went in the house, sticking as close as they could. I fell into bed at 9:00, hoping to get enough sleep to recharge so I could get through one more day, then another, and another.
The bed shook. “Pris?” From somewhere deep under I heard my husband’s voice. I sat up. “The agency just called. The boys have a younger brother and sister who are being kicked out of their foster home. They want to know if we will take them for the weekend.”
Each succeeding decade brings with it a new theme. We are now in the middle of the theme of PASSION. Visit any bookstore or browse Amazon for any length of time and you will see the theme of passion on display: The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Putting Your Passion Into Print: Get Your Book Published Successfully!, to name just a few. I add to that list the book I came across this week : Steve Olsher’s What is Your What? The premise of the book is found in Olsher’s subtitle: Discover the ONE Thing You Were Meant to Do.
We are naturally drawn to the idea that we are born with one purpose, one gift, one destiny. It gratifies our hearts to think that there is one special niche for us. Literature is full of this idea. Heroes go on quests. For fun? No, to fulfill the one thing they were born for--to save the maiden, to restore the kingdom, to destroy the ring. Disney perpetuates the idea. There is one prince, one task, one outcome. We are drawn to finding our one passion because when we do, we convince ourselves, we will be happy. Behind every quest we begin is the driving need to find happiness.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. In fact, it is right and good. A desire for happiness is, bottom line, the basis for religion. Even Christianity is built on the foundation that there is a possibility of happiness for us. Despite a cultural tradition that Christians are long-faced nay-sayers, true Christians know the meaning of festival, revelry, and delight. They go after happiness the way others go after power. But: is our decade’s theme the true path to happiness? Will following our passion solve our ills and half of those of our neighbors?
I think not.